"None of us go into teaching to be rich."
This statement was delivered by Eugene Bondarenko, Slavic Languages Lecturer, on February 2nd before university administration during a bargaining session.
(Transcribed by Alex Elkins & reviewed by Eugene): Hi, my name is Eugene. I teach Ukrainian and Russian. Let me tell you my life story. I have 5 minutes, right? [laughter]
I immigrated here with my family in 1998. I was ten years old. We settled in Michigan. We moved to Oak Park and then to Ann Arbor. As every kid does, you look up to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Well, I got to go there. My serious immigrant parents made me study really hard and then I went to UM. I liked my bachelor’s degree so much that I got my Master’s here too.
Upon graduation, the war in Ukraine had just broken out, so I went to Ukraine as an interpreter for frontline journalists for 8 or 9 months. After getting shot at, I decided that just maybe that wasn’t the right career path for me. And, lo and behold, with Russia and Ukraine being in the news, instruction in those languages was in high demand, and UM posted a job here. I applied and got the job. Apparently interpreting under fire is a good credential for a university teaching position.
I teach two "Critical Languages." Critical languages are languages that are considered critical to national security interests. I teach these two critical languages. I don’t know how many people know this, but we’re the only program in the country that offers a Ukrainian minor.
I love my job, the people I work with, and what I do. None of us go into teaching to be rich. We don’t expect to buy property in Martha’s vineyard after being a Lecturer. However, what isn’t reasonable is my paycheck runs out a week and a half into the month. To make ends meet I drive Uber twenty hours a week. I tried to hide this from my family. It’s a cultural thing. It’s considered shameful to have to do that kind of work when you work in the university. My grandpa finds out and says, “you know, if you pick up one of your students, you’ll have to explain you’re poor.” I said, “Thank you, grandpa, you are very wise.” [laughter]
But what I thought to myself, what I’m going to tell you today, is that it’s not up to me to be ashamed. It’s up to the administration to be ashamed.
You pay us less than tuition for one out-of-state student. That tuition doubles my salary. You should be ashamed that you have Lecturers who work 40 hours a week and still have to get a second job. You should be ashamed that you have Lecturers who have to be on food stamps.
Hearing this, you can understand why we take these contract negotiations so personally. The decisions you make impact us individually. You would never look a loved one in the eye and say, "you deserve to earn $30,000 working full time." I haven’t been able to afford new work clothes for two years. My pay check lasts a week and a half. I can drive for Uber, and I can pick up translation work. But ultimately this is an unacceptable arrangement. In order to work in Ann Arbor, 50% of my paycheck goes to rent. [murmurs of agreement from Lecturers in audience] In case you didn’t know, it should be 30%.
For us this is personal.
Things like denying bereavement and refusing to discuss salary at this point is outright unacceptable. You better believe this impacts the quality of instruction. If you think I can commit the same time to my students as someone who doesn’t have to work a second job, you’re kidding yourselves. I’m 30 years old. I can withstand the rigors of working 60-hour weeks. I’m hard pressed to think I can do this at 65.
All of my degrees and qualifications come from the University of Michigan. When my students look at me, the message you send to them is, “Get a degree in Russian, and you too can work for Uber.” [laughter]
It is unacceptable.
I also understand that what you have here is a national problem. University of Michigan is not an exception. But it ought to be. You have the chance to play heroes or villains. You are sitting on a mountain of money. Let’s be honest. You can make a difference. You can say, “let’s stop exploiting Lecturers and we’re gonna start treating them like human beings.” That’s ultimately up to you. The choice is yours. It’s in your court. I’ll stick around for a little bit to answer questions and then I gotta get back in the cab.